Friday, October 31, 2014

Unleashing the Voice - Are We Ready? Blogging in the Classroom

Major Project Component - Blogging to Connect

So this week I had the opportunity to set up a few sessions with students for blogging in the classroom as part of our Genius Hour Project, and to also create some collaborative opportunities to blog. Although blogging is new for many teachers, I really appreciate that many teachers in my school division are extending their comfort zone and looking for new ways for students to connect and reflect. Here is my short blogging Powerpoint resource that I created for teachers to use with their students.

Considerations on Blogging

Recently I was reading a blog by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano @langwitches on "Blogging as Pedagogy".  In her blog post, she explores exactly how blogging supports learning in the areas of reading, writing, sharing and reflecting. To start her blog, she states,

"Blogging should not be an add-on, not an isolated project, but should be seen as PEDAGOGY."

I love how Tolisano reinforces the point. Blogging is not an add-on. Teachers should not commit to doing a "blogging project" no more than they would commit to exploring a "writing project" in their classroom. Blogging encourages students to reflect deeply, write for an authentic audience, share other connections and ideas to websites via links, but most importantly, allow for opportunities for self reflection based on the interactions with others. Blogging is more than just a way to improve writing, it's a vehicle for improving learning or exploring metacognition.

Another noteworthy blogger to check out is Pernille Ripp @PernilleRipp. She is author of the blog, Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension explains the importance of unleashing student voice through blogging.  In a post titled, "10 Quick Ways to Give Students Voice", she explores how using a variety of tools, particularly blogging allows one to give students voice.

Pernille also goes on to share a few ways on how blogging has benefitted her students, in her post, Why should you blog with your students, states her Top 10 Reasons for Blogging. The points she made that resonated with me, as I came to many of the same conclusions while blogging with my class. I've summed up some of her points and added some of my own thoughts to the benefits of blogging.

*Authentic audience - I fully agree, with some of my students I found that they were more aware and cogniscient of what they wrote when the audience expanded beyond the teacher.

*Opportunity to show growth in writing and learning - You can easily track the progress and it's basically date stamped! When it's digital tracking drafts is easier. Most teachers can identify with this I'm sure!

*Opens dialogue between students and teachers to explore and discuss ideas and how the learner can improve. Provided the teacher is keeping up with the blogging, it allows the student immediate feedback from the teacher.

*Establishes one's internet identity in a safe manner - I have found that parents who were hesitant about on-line activity appreciate the "safety-net" that Kidblog offered. I agree that it also gave students the chance to learn how to develop that identity, without the fear of trolls lurking in the shadows ready to prey on them.

*They teach each other - Once a teacher explores with students how to effectively write a post or a comment, then this happens more effectively. Over the past several years with blogging with my own students I found that it was essential to MODEL EFFECTIVE COMMENTING, because as a teacher if your comments are short and don't encourage interaction or participation, the kids will not post effective comments either. Part of the piece with effective commenting is to teach students a model, whatever it might be. Below, I included a copy of a visual that I created to teach kids how to effectively comment. Overall, I found that when I started to implicitly teach this model to the students, the overall interaction improved.

*Global collaboration - This is one area that I would like more experience. I have had students blog with experts in the field, which I have previously examined in a previous post, Blogging Project with a UN Peacekeeper, and I have had students engage in Interschool Blogging, through a project called the Digital Dystopian Bookclub. (More later on that project).

* Student voice - This would probably be the best part about blogging. Giving students the opportunity to develop their voice is empowering. It's a soap box to share your ideas with the world. Blogging is a forum that goes beyond just the teacher reading the ideas, or just a bulletin board in the classroom. It makes the term "authentic audience" truly mean something when you know that there are people who will read your ideas.

scream and shout by mdanys, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  mdanys

I think one of the key ways in getting started with blogging is to first explore the concept of collaboration. Blogging is more than just using the internet to do a "blogging project". The question is always what are you blogging about? What is the focus?  It's one of the core skills that must be taught, it's a skill and a vehicle for communication. With blogging it's about expression and voice, but having a point for sharing.

An excellent example of this is in +LisaK 's  blog post, "Today's Lesson About Blogging" she definitely reinforces this idea with her grade 2 classroom. When she introduced blogging, she ensured that the students understood that the point of blogging was to explore a key idea. Her key idea was connected to how to be a Digital Citizen and live the "Golden Rule" on-line. She further reinforces and emphasizes the point with the book, "Do Unto Otters". By exploring this idea, the students would be focusing on a concept and discussing an idea, not just blogging for the sake of blogging. In addition to clearly laying the foundation, and to get away from the intimidating "shininess" of technology and focus on the collaboration/communication concept, she had the students Paper Blog.  Which is a fantastic idea that I really love. In my own grade 7/8 classroom, I have used the exact same idea, just to reinforce what a blog is all about.  At any age it's important to reinforce that blogging is about communicating and sharing,  and not focus in on the tool itself.

Blogging Projects That Connected Learners

One of the projects that I was involved in last year, was a Digital Book Club. In this unit we had the chance to form students into blogging book groups. This experience allowed kids to reflect on dystopian themed novels in small interschool book clubs. Quite honestly, it was probably one of the most engaging literature studies that I have ever explored with my students. To get an overview of what we did in the Interschool Digital Dystopian Book Club, check out the Animoto video below.

If teachers are interested in collaborative blogging on a global scale, there are Global Blogging Challenges  through Sue Waters and Edublogs. There are also Quadblogging opportunities that are worth checking out. I have connected with other classrooms to Quadblog through the Quadblogging website set up by Deputy Mitchell and through Twitter by using #quadblogging. Last year as Teacher Librarian I set up a quad blogging opportunity for a grade 3 classroom where we explored culture, but unfortunately we ran out of time, as it was at the end of the year. So the quad dissolved to just a pair. In hindsight, it was perhaps a better starting point for interschool blogging for younger students anyways.

Great Tools for Blogging

To finish my post, I wanted to share a few other tools/resources for blogging that I have used in the past to blog with my own students.

Assessment the Web 2.0 Way

McTeach's Paper Blog Lesson

Get Your Students Blogging

Getting Started with Blogging -  Posts on how to get started, how to get comments, and videos from students.

Internet Safety Forms and Tools  - I have adapted one of Pernille's forms (with her permission). It's a great starting point.

There are of course @SueWaters  resources made available via The Edublogger  which are fantastic and really could be considered a "One-Stop Shop" for blogging.

What I love is finding all the blogging gems out there that all reinforce the point that blogging is not just a "cool, shiny tool" to engage kids, it is a vehicle for transforming learning.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"The Breakfast Club", Being Connected and Digital Identity

the library by MacQ, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  MacQ 

When we were in school, particularly as teens, we wrestled with our identity based on how we dressed, what we did for fun, or who we hung out with. In the movie, "The Breakfast Club", teen identity was tightly wrapped up in one's peers or social group. How has this changed today?  As teens, many of us were able to relate to at least one of the archetype characters in "The Breakfast Club". Even if the characters represented stereotypical teen cliques, the movie explored the idea that each of these individuals was more than the stereotype of the group they hung out with. How have the roles of teens today changed from the roles of this  well-loved teen classic?  On-line are there still "the jocks", "the brains", "the princesses" "the basket-cases", and "the criminals"...? Do those names still linger? Or have they morphed into something else?

As teens 20 years ago, trying to forge an identity with social pressures was challenging enough. It was time when one could perhaps be themselves, without the eyes of peers constantly "watching". Today with social media, do teens have more or less freedom to be themselves? Is the presence of the "ever-present" social media changing the way kids form their identity?  Or is there a greater challenge in trying to create that online identity and be true to their offline identity?

In "The Breakfast Club" we see the effects of stereotyping and bullying, which seem to be somewhat overcome by an afternoon of detention which opened the social boundaries that separated the teens. In today's terms how have the roles changed? In the on-line world, what are the new roles? Could they be the: "Citizens", "Trolls", "Victims", "Hackers", "Users", "Creators", "Tweeters",  and "Curators" ... (I'm sure there are more, these are just a few I could think of.) But how are these roles changing the formation of this identity? Are the Pintrest users the new "Princesses", "Google+" users the new "Brains" and the "Trolls" the "Criminals"? Have things changed that much in 25 years? Are students still categorized by their peer group and how they socially interact. Is it just the location for social interaction the part that has changed? 

A few years ago, I had to intervene with a couple cases of harassment via Facebook with a middle years student. The solution that was decided, was that the student being harassed should "take a break from social media", for their own emotional protection. It was a challenging situation to navigate, because as was pointed out in our discussion with @bonstewart Tuesday night, why does the victim always have to stop socializing via social media? Why not the bully? Seeing the student suffering from the hurtful comments and not really getting a break from it was heartbreaking. What was more challenging, was trying to get the cooperation from the parents of all the students involved to intervene and admit that something had to be done (and not just the parents of the victim). My situation was only a small fraction of the insidious harassment as evident in the Amanda Todd case (CBC Fifth Estate story, "The Sextortion of Amanda Todd"), but nonetheless, one can see how quickly social media can turn ugly, even at a middle years level. It makes you wonder, where is the on-line detention room when you need it?

I suppose this is part of the important role that teachers have in helping students learn how to interact in the online environment. It's not just about teaching students how to use the technology and navigate the digital world, but also recognize ethical and unethical situations when they see them. As parents and teachers we can somewhat control the physical environment that our kids interact within, but when it comes to the on-line environment, we almost need to be as vigilant as we would be walking with a child near a dangerous city street at night! We need to teach our kids how to be safe and protect their identity and how to avoid the "Trolls" looking for ways to steal the joy of socializing on-line.
Going back to "The Breakfast Club", how can we look for spaces (outside of detention) where kids can socialize in this world and really get to know each other? Or is this even necessary?? Should we keep these on-line spaces impersonal and controlled, particularly with younger on-line users??  Or should we look the Internet as a place that will provide a space where social boundaries can be crossed, sort of like in "The Breakfast Club"?

There are so many questions still left unanswered, that I will need to muse on further... 

Reflection Part 2 - Social Media, Curation and Gamerwhat??

North American detail map of Flickr and by Eric Fischer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Eric Fischer 

This post is an exploration of my reactions to the curation of fabulous resources from our discussion with Bonnie Stewart on Tuesday night. I took a little time to read and reflect on the suggested videos and reading, and here are a few of my reflections....

Twitter Search #YesAllWomen
This hashtag from our discussion, caught my attention, so I checked it out on Twitter to learn more.... It was interesting to see how a hashtag could curate thoughts on promoting the treatment of women or issues that women face. Anyways, it was interesting. Would I tweet to this hashtag? Probably not... as quite honestly, my Twitter Identity is quite wrapped up in educational issues, such as literacy, digital literacy, assessment, youth poverty issues, social activism and youth. Nevertheless, I respect the opportunity that having a hashtag to promote awareness regarding important issues such as female bashing. In the future I would be interested in checking out this hashtag just for interest.

I Liked Everything on Facebook for Two Days, See What it Did to Me - Wired Magazine

Great quote from Wired, "This is a problem much bigger than Facebook. It reminded me of what can go wrong in society, and why we now often talk at each other instead of to each other. We set up our political and social filter bubbles and they reinforce themselves—the things we read and watch have become hyper-niche and cater to our specific interests. We go down rabbit holes of special interests until we’re lost in the queen’s garden, cursing everyone above ground."

I found this article from Wired to be really interesting. I actually hadn't really paid much attention to the issue regarding Facebook controlling the information that was funneled to the user.

The reason I included the quote above from the article regarding talking at each other, is because I have often wondered if we actually read what people post in Facebook or in other communities. As teachers we look at encouraging our students to be readers who are able to effectively interpret, summarize, analyze and synthesize what they read. But do we? Has the focus with Social Media become so much of a sharing space that I wonder if we are actually deeply reading what is shared. Can we really beat ourselves up too much with the breadth and the vast amount of information that we are faced with? As adults are we so inundated, that we have lost the art of reading deeply?? I think that as teachers this is an issue worth considering, as the amount of information that our students are exposed to, isn't going to diminish. Yes we can encourage our students to be contributors to this on-line environment, and as a big fan of blogging in the classroom, I believe we should. But how can we encourage that deep understanding?? I think it goes back to perhaps following the same formula that I like to promote in my room for "Making Quality Comments". (The visual is a poster for a "formula" I created for effective comment writing.)

Then there were all the articles with "Gamergate", which included: "Yes Gamergate is an EdTech Issue" and "Gamergate Controversy". It actually seemed a little bizarre to read about "sociopaths" as described in the "Trouble at the Koolaid Point" article, where Internet "Trolls" are described as going out of their way to make the lives of individuals challenging to unbearable, just for fun. Maybe I'm too busy, so I don't get this concept of an individual taking the time to help create a band of "haters" via social media. I mean, who has the time for ridiculous stuff like that?? I like tweeting and reading other tweets to see what's new in edtech or literacy... but to read someone's negative tweets about another person? Huh?? Who cares? I suppose I would get annoyed if it meant I started losing followers, as it has taken me over 2 years to get 500+ followers. But at the same time, I don't think that my followers are the type of Twitter users to really pay attention to this type of negative content.

However, if there were "Trolls" going out of their way to threaten me or my family, as in the case from the "Yes Gamergate is an EdTech Issue" I would probably just drop Social Media. It wouldn't be worth continuing. Even if a Troll isn't emotionally invested in bullying and is just doing it as a sick social experiment, I think if you just drop Social Media, you're not letting that person get to you.

Speaking of Trolls...

I feel like a bit of an Internet Stalker...I know I'm probably not, but after exploring "Internet Trolls" I don't want to be associated with any of that behavior. Moving on...

To learn more about Bonnie Stewart and her work, I Googled her... of course... and came across this Youtube video. It's on the Social Contract and the MOOC. I found it interesting how she explores the social interaction of the learner, whether it's with a text or with the MOOC community. Very interesting comments on connectivists, MOOCs, and the expectations of the learner and their expectations of the social contract and the MOOC.

The Youtube video has the following descriptor, "how do MOOCs - across the spectrum of xMOOC to cMOOC - change or challenge the social contract of traditional learning environments?"

I would like to learn about the difference between the two categories of MOOC's that she mentions, xMOOC and cMOOC . I am also curious about the role of the social contract in ensuring that people finish. Based on her vlog, it seems like the two differences are the traditional MOOCs are the whole traditional, modular type teaching, the other MOOC being that learning community. So this leads me to my next question... Does having a learning community in which the learner interacts with create more pressure to finish the course, because of the social contract that you are all learning together? Is there a pressure that you can't drop out, because we're all in this together? I'm curious about what MOOC framework would be better in ensuring that the learner sticks with it.

What are the experiences of the students in our class, of whom are engaging in MOOCs for their major project? What are their thoughts about these 2 different types of MOOCs and the success rate of engaging the learner?

Finally, just for the fun of it, and because this week's discussion was so intense, I thought I better end my post with an upbeat video. What a Twitter conversation sounds like in real life... with Jimmy Falon and Justin Timberlake.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Makeagif because its's fun!!

What's with the Gif?

So I have a strange fascination with gifs... not sure why I like them so much really. But I found that with your phone, if you happen to snap a bunch of photos of something or someone... like your kids. They make great subject matter for creating your own gif! So here are a couple gifs that I created... I could only add the links to the site.
Rapid fire baby playing Minecraft gif

It was pretty simple to make my own gif. No log in required, quick upload of pics from my phone. It worked almost to well... Where are these gifs going anyways?? Will they eventually 'evaporate' into cyberspace? One thing that could be improved upon is a reset on the speed, but that's for another day.

Application for the classroom 

There could be some fun ideas to create gifs as part of stop animation in Arts Ed or in other subject areas, where you might want to rapidly show pictures in a fun way. These gifs could then immediately be linked to a student's blog or website. Aside from the fun nature, perhaps the students could snap pictures of their progress on a project, then create a gif to document their progress, in a more entertaining way than expected!

If you too are mesmerized by gifs, try out this site: 

Digital Storytelling, Student Self Assessment and Digital Portfolios with Powerpoint... Yes Powerpoint!

1,2,3 SHOT! by Macarena C., on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Macarena C. 

I love digital storytelling! So much in fact, that I think that this powerful tool can have the power for kids to not only compose stories on-line, but share their learnings about a particular area.

 In the Shelly S. Terrell's wiki, she has made a screencast to go with a slideshow about how she uses Digital Storytelling with younger grades. I really appreciate how she acknowledges the overall benefits when working with EAL/ESL learners and how this technology can help them tell their stories. Digital Storytelling video screencast by Shelly S. Terrell can be found on her site, Technology 4 Kids. She discusses what can be achieved with Digital Storytelling, with very simple ideas shared in an accessible way.

In her wiki, in addition to video resources, there are great samples digital storytelling projects and sites to check out. Other links to see on Digital Storytelling... Cog Dog's site, CogDogroo and Kathy Schrock's Digital Storytelling Site . There are so many amazing options for making this project format come to life!

I think I will be exploring some of these options to share in my major project. I plan on using some of the resources and help a grade 1 class tell their stories in the form of a story circle using tools with Digital Storytelling. In addition to this, I have been working with a Pre-K teacher on a Religion Project that incorporates Digital Storytelling. We decided just to go simple by using Powerpoint to insert pictures and audio of children's narration into the text. Very simple, but very effective for teachers. The beauty is that the Powerpoint format can be shared easily with parents! Although using powerpoint might not be flashy, it still is effective and is easy to use for teachers, particularly those who might not be comfortable with using some of the more complicated tools. Sometimes it's about making the digital tool accessible for the hesitant user, rather than making it complicated or frustrating.

This project got me thinking about how Powerpoint could be used with Assessment and Three Way Conferences. In addition to other portfolio work (digital or paper), students could use Powerpoint to create Metacognitive Digital Portfolios. In this portfolios, students could take pictures of pieces of their work they wish to discuss, insert pictures of the work (if it is in paper, just take a picture and upload) or take a screenshot of other pieces of work, then insert "Metacognitive Points" on the goal of the assignment, what they found challenging and their growth in relation to a particular outcome. Students could then record an explanation expanding upon the Metacognitive Points and insert that audio into the text. This Powerpoint could easily be shared via Office 365 prior or in-conjunction with the report card, thereby starting the dialogue for the Three Way Conferences. One of the benefits of inserting audio, rather than doing a screencast, is so that this portfolio could be an on-going project, and it wouldn't have to be recorded all in one shot.
_D3N1152_fix_6x4_full by Innovation_School, on Flickr

New Screencast - "Unsharing in O365" - Whoot! Whoot!

"Unsharing in Office 365" Link to Youtube
Whoot! Whoot! Another screencast made by yours truly! This time I uploaded and embedded, rather than just copy/pasting from Youtube!

This screencasts is to stop sharing with Office 365, which is Microsoft's version of Google Drive. Anyways I have totally got over my fear of the screencast... Maybe I'll start my own Youtube Channel! :-)

The point of this screencast goes with my major project goal in creating resources for teachers in my school division in using Office 365. I also hope to add other screencasts created by some fellow teachers to my website.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Mystery Skype another aspect of my major project

Skype by ebayink, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  ebayink 

My major  project involves the integration and support of many different digital strategies and tools. As a technology coach I don't have a class this year, instead I have many classes!

One of the projects that I would love to support and help teachers bring to life I the classroom is the Mystery Skype. A couple years ago I had heard about this project, so of course I immediately got excited about its potential to engage kids in this collaborative opportunity to learn about other global communities. After talking about it (excessively :)) a couple friends of mine got sucked into the enthusiasm, and decided that they too wanted to try a Mystery Skype. 

Using the power if Twitter, I was able to find partners for my friends using the hashtag #mysteryskype. One classroom was from England, the other was from Ontario. When engaging in the mystery Skype, the students were divided into groups with specific roles to help narrow down the search. 

One aspect that makes the mystery Skype a bit challenging is finding partners of a comparable time zone, this can often put a bit of a hamper on coordinating mystery Skype partners. One way to get through this problem was solved in a post in the Mystery Skype Google Plus Community that I belong to. I think the author is definitely onto something with the "Asynchronous Mystery Hangout". Check it out!

Mystery Skype w/ Mrs. Elsey’s Class by 21innovate, on FlickrIn addition to finding Mystery Skypees on Twitter, you can find a fellow Skypee via Google Community! Check out the Mystery Hangout for Education Google Community and the Mystery Hangouts for Foreign Language Teachers

Teachers can also find out more about Mystery Skype via Skype in the Classroom and sign up to register.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  21innovate 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Major Project Screencast for O365

Made a screencast for Setting a Start Page in Office 365! I still hate my voice!!!

Genius Hour Launch and Lock

Ideas for Genius Hour by mrsdkrebs, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  mrsdkrebs 

So I've been composing my documents to support teachers in Genius Hour and thought I should go through the fabulous Live binder of Genius Hour Documents curated by Joy Kirr and start curating a few of my own ideas of how I would launch Genius Hour in my classroom.

1. Play Genius Hour video that I created to generate enthusiasm.

2. Review the following Powerpoints to get acquainted with Genius Hour.

3. Get students to start brainstorming some of their passions and things they care about. What would they like to learn more about if they had time. What question is a "big", deep, thought-provoking question about their topic. How will they carve out the essential question. I think I would use Langwitches blog to assist in formulating questions...

4. Present an "elevator pitch" for a project. This is an idea that comes from Kevin Brockhouser's blog, "I think, I Teach"
"What is an Elevator Pitch? can be summed up as follows...

The term comes from the notion that an innovator with a great idea might find herself in an elevator with a powerful investor. She has a very short period of time to convince this investor to buy into her idea. She needs to deliver an elevator pitch.

For their Genius Hour projects, students must prepare a pitch about their Project in 30 seconds. Then deliver their pitch to the teacher in the form of a podcast (use tablet record devices). It follows the model established by a cheesy video from YouTube explaining an elevator pitch.

I also like some of the resources from Mr. Baroody's blog , The GA 20 Time Beta Test

Pitches Should Include:

1. Why is it worth my time to learn about this?
2. How is it going to make a difference in the world? How will it inspire others to learn?
3. Do I realistically have the resources to learn about this?
4. Do I have the time in 8 weeks to learn about it?
5. Is my essential question or driving question too narrow or too wide?

Genius Hour is coming to RCSD! Whoot! Whoot!

Getting Ready for New Beginnings...

So one aspect of my Major project is to create a space for teachers to collaborate about Genius Hour. I think that this project is so worthwhile, I thought that when you have something like this, it can't happen in isolation. So to kick off Genius Hour in my school division I prepared a collection of resources and a powerpoint explaining some information about Genius Hour, shared a presentation that a friend had worked on for the project, created a video to engage kids in Genius Hour, then had a face to face meeting with potential participants in the project. Although having a f2f meeting may seem like it's taking a step back from digital learning and sharing, I realized that sometimes people just need to have a face to face meeting especially when there are so many levels of comfort with technology. And quite honestly, I didn't want to turn off the "non-techy" people from trying Genius Hour in their classrooms by having too much technology thrown in their face right away. So I used the "old-fashioned" method of communication to invite participants to a meeting... email! :-)

The Meeting...

In my meeting I had about 10 people show up, mostly from Regina Catholic. I also had about 6-7 others who stated they were interested, just couldn't make the meeting. So to start teachers off, we examined the concept with my powerpoint, "What is Genius Hour?" - which I also Tweeted so that participants could reference it later, followed up with a quick exploration of hour to launch it with students and a discussion of the purpose of our meeting.  I also shared a Student Genius Hour power point that my friend Matt Bresciani @mattbresciani  had used to launch Genius Hour in his classroom, so I persuaded him to share it via Twitter as well.  I also created a Genius Hour video via Animoto to help teachers gather enthusiasm for the project for students. Finally, I proposed that we would collaborate via a shared folder/ document on Office 365 (similar to Google docs, but a Microsoft product) and Twitter. Our new discussion hashtag for Genius Hour will be #rcsdgenius . Yaaaayyyy, our hashtag for the project was born!

Moving Ahead...

So, right now I have a small collection of people who have Twitter accounts and individuals who are also new to sharing via Office 365... My school division, Regina Catholic, doesn't seem to have a lot of teachers who were accustomed to using Google Drive, so I think I have a bit of work cut out for me... It's all good - they'll come around. It will just take time. I'm just excited to have started my group of "Reasonably Intelligent Teachers Who Teach Geniuses" of whom will be collaborating and sharing - then in turn get their kids collaborating and sharing. It should be a great adventure!

My Genius Hour Video

Feeling Excited for the possibilities...

My Genius Hour Powerpoint That I Shared With Teachers

So why the QR Code? 

This is a recent tool that I've been experimenting with in my role as a Technology Coach. They are kind of gimmicky, but they really seem to captivate people. On a side note, they could allow for fast directions for students or they could be a fun way for a student to share their genius hour learning in a portfolio... Links to their screencasts for the blogs or to blog entries. Just some thoughts! 
By the way, the QR code is linked to the actual Powerpoint.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Making Memories With Constructivism and the Maker Movement

Create by gfpeck, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  gfpeck 

 Hands on learning really isn't a new concept. Many educators are already aware that children learn often best by doing or engaging in projects that connect to authentic problem solving. In the article, "How the Maker Movement is Moving into Classrooms" by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) in Edutopia (July 2014), she urges teachers not to treat making as an "extra" or a novel "sidebar" as she puts it, because it's been supported by researchers going back to Piaget, who is quoted as saying,

"[S]tudents who are thus reputedly poor in mathematics show an entirely different attitude when the problem comes from a concrete situation and is related to other interests."

Anyways what is it about the maker movement that grabs our attention? Is it because deep down we know that we all just want to play? I'm sure many of us remember a time when as a kid you felt like you "scored" when you got a refrigerator box and you could make it into whatever you wanted. Or a time when you were allowed to take apart a radio and look at the "guts" on the inside and tinker around with it. Or perhaps it was even a time when you built your dream house out of Lego.

Vicki Davis points out that even in an age when we look at apps for learning, classrooms are instead choosing to look at "maker projects", as some apps still encourage old thinking such as memorizing facts. How many apps have you explored that are basically "digital flash cards"? Davis points out that we are missing the point of technology if it is just programming kids to memorize the facts. Instead technology should encourage or provide students the tools to invent... Make an app not just use an app.

kids-invent-2004-15 by The Bakken Museum, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License by  The Bakken Museum 

So why is there suddenly a movement for making? Why are there Makerfaires springing up around the world? Why are people looking at the construction of cardboard projects, as a great place to encourage creativity and critical thinking, as seen in projects such as in "Caine's Arcade" - which actually sparked a global movement known as the global cardboard challenge. It seems interesting that there seems to be a resurgence in the philosophy that in order to promote critical thinking and problem solving, there needs to be a space for kids to create and apply abstract thinking by inventing. However, the question that I keep coming back to, is that how we did lose sight of creating and inventing and just engaging in these kinds of projects? How did "covering" outcomes begin to take precedence  over kids being innovative and inventive with their hands? At what point did it become easier to just deal in paper and pencil and fill in the blank?

I know in my own classroom, I have chosen to just do the "easy" route and avoided a project as often I felt I lacked the time to go down that path when I had so many outcomes to cover. But was I doing just that... covering. Is covering really sufficient? Has any student ever come back and said, "Wow, I really enjoyed that unit, we covered so many outcomes!" Probably not, but when they speak of moments in school when they felt really engaged in what they were learning, they probably reference a time that they worked on a project that truly captured their imagination or that required critical thinking in some kind of meaningful, authentic way.

It is for this reason that I have always been a fan of project-based or inquiry learning. There were times when engaging in these types of projects that I wondered, "Oh no what have we got ourselves into, this unit is going to take forever!" Or where I was going back to the curriculum to check and see whether or not that outcome was really being explored, but then I just needed to remind myself, were the students problem-solving? Collaborating? Inventing? Researching or critically analyzing? Were they excited about what they were doing? Would a worksheet or a set of questions based on a reading captivate them more? Probably not.


The principles of the Maker Movement is based on constructivism, where students construct, invent and problem solve and in doing so - construct their own meaning and deepen their own understanding. Rather than having information "spoon fed" through tidy worksheets and fact driven questions. 

So, where do we go from here? I think perhaps to promote the Maker Movement in schools we need to look beyond looking for just expensive kits or 3-D printers. Andrew Foreman points out in his blog titled, "MakeMake" that the equipment for these projects doesn't have to be super expensive. Yes of course we would all love to have some of this high priced equipment in our schools, but while we wait for that 3-D printer to be delivered or the robotics lab to be built, we can look at bringing in Lego into the classroom. As Andrew further points out, by incorporating digital tools such as Chrome Build and Google Sketchup into learning, you engage in that type of thinking without the huge pricetag. It's about how we can deliver outcomes with projects that encourage authentic inquiry-driven problem solving and creating - it's not the cost of the tools that we use.

Three years ago, I decided to "let go" and take a risk with a project that I applied to participate in a program with the Saskatchewan Architecture Association and "Architecture Goes to School".  This program allowed for grade 7/8 students from around Saskatchewan to engage in an inquiry partnership with local mentor architects. My grade 7/8 class of 33 students, was partnered not only 
with one architect, but two. The best part was that one of the architects was my father-in-law! (No really, it was great to have him involved). For the next two and a half months, Roger Mitchell and Chang Sun mentored my class two afternoons per week. In this cross-curricular project we explored the essential question,"How can we create a community where we can live, work and play?" Students examined not only aspects of ratio, design and urban planning, but more importantly, how we could create a community which reflected our classroom ideals - one of diversity and cultural inclusion. Students were divided into different community collaborative project groups then took on leadership roles within each group. The roles included: Writers, Sketch Up Experts, Artistic Graphic Designers, Visual Organizers, Sustainability Experts and Project Leaders. In creating the plans for our project, we utilized the power of Google Sketch Up. Throughout the project, we focused on our essential question, never on the digital tools... they just helped to bring our ideas and plans to life.

Now I think that the project reflected the ideals of the Maker Movement, but perhaps it lacked on thing, we didn't actually make the physical model of our community. We analyzed, collaborated, planned, created and composed a digital design, but didn't make the model. Why? It all came down to space. I just didn't have the room in my classroom to store the model. In some ways I felt like I was copping-out, but I wondered how we could keep a model intact with my classroom which was already crammed with kids. In spite of this short-coming, I felt like we had accomplished so much in this cross-curricular project. Learning in this way was messy.... Not as messy as it would be with a model, but worth it.

If you would like to read more about the Scope and Sequence of the project, please check out the Architecture Goes to School page on my blog, Stewie's Smart Thoughts in the Classroom.

Below is a powerpoint that provides an overview of the project.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Connecting Lives With Digital Tools - Reflecting on Our Google Adventure

Our session with Google Guru, Michael Wacker was so eye-opening, it took about 24 hours for my head to stop spinning and I was able to start processing all the Googlicious opportunities that lay ahead.  Although I always felt like I had a pretty good grasp of how to integrate Google Drive/Apps into the classroom, there were so many more apps and functions introduced that night, that I too felt like it was information overload. Quite honestly, just the collaborative tools which we engaged in that night left me wondering, when did technology get so interactive? 

I have engaged in blogging with my students for the last 6 years, and although I felt like I was really giving them an opportunity to collaborate and share, I now realize how much further we can take students with collaboration. It used to be so complicated to share projects or ideas, now it's so immediate and accessible. As long as a person has a device and wifi, they are able to connect with this digital highway. And although Google is pretty fantastic by making it's products free, one can't help but wonder, who has access? Who is collaborating? Who is connecting? Are all faces being represented? How can we take collaborative tools like the apps that Google provides for all, for free, and use them to digitally empower? What percentage of the world is able to have these tools for empowerment?

In the fall of 2010, I heard that my friend Karen Hamelin, an R.C.M.P. officer and instructor at Depot, was accepted with the U.N. to go to Sudan and be part of a peacekeeping mission during the historic referendum and the formation of new country. I believed that this once-in-a-lifetime mission was one that Karen could not keep to herself, so I approached her about blogging with my grade 7/8 students. Initially Corporal Karen was not interested in "blogging with a bunch of Canadian kids". However, through some convincing, she came around to agree that it would be a rewarding collaborative learning experience for the students. After months of blogging, she grew to enjoy their amusing observations, comments and questions. She was also quite touched by their reflections and insights. At the conclusion of her mission, it was evident that the experience was one that touched the hearts of not only the students but also our U. N. Peacekeeper. 

Our project gave the grade eights the opportunity to use technology for more than just checking Facebook updates and texting. It gave them the opportunity to see more about life in Southern Sudan than what they would with just television or Internet news feeds. By blogging with Karen, they were able to see beyond the "polished" lens of the news. Without sounding overly cliche, it seemed as though blogging and connecting with Corporal Karen, the students were able to truly connect with life vastly different than their own, and appreciate many of the opportunities we take for granted as Canadians. Blogging gave the students the chance to connect in an asynchronous way. On the other hand, the tools available through Google, could allow students to share in a synchronous way, making learning feel all the more immediate, and even more connected.

So, what does all this have to do with the fast-paced trip through Google on Tuesday? Well it makes me realize how these tools make communication and collaboration feel "real". Working on a live document with a comments/conversation side-bar, allowed for a large group of people to communicate even more than in a face-to-face class. Although there will always be different degrees of comfort when sharing in class, I believe that there was far more discussion via the comments area, than one would have in a f2f class. Now when you think of the classroom, and all students being able to collaborate via any device with Google, you can't help but wonder how many more voices are being "heard". 

After our discussion, many of us were thinking, "This is sooooo awesome! Now how I begin?"  and "Why didn't I start this months ago?"   Seriously though, how does one begin? How do we get collaborative classrooms organized seamlessly? How do we take collaboration to that epic level? How do we get everyone up to speed so that we can have more inter-school peer to peer collaboration? Where to begin... Hmmm...

I really like Kelly Christopherson's comment in his blog post, "Drinking From the Fire Hydrant", on why it's important to focus on how the tools fit the learning at hand. As a matter of fact, Kelly states it so well, it's definitely worthy a repeat in my post... 

Refocus on the people that you are working with – what will help them?
Refocus on the students that you teach and their learning – why/how will it help?
Refocus on the goals you have for your own learning – why/how does it fit?

Kelly's comments remind me that it's about crawling before you can run. In order to get everyone there, we need to make sure that everyone is moving at their own pace on that proverbial digital highway. It's all about looking at how the technology will take learning further than before. Looking first at the students' needs, then the outcomes, then looking at the tools that will help learning. Whether it's collaborating with peers or with a person across an ocean. It's about looking at where the tools can take learning for students and make it more engaging and meaningful... whatever that tool may be.

Cpl. Karen Hamelin on left

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gamification and the Maker Movement, the new reality in education??

Photo Credit: Flickr
I've been thinking a lot lately about Game based learning or "Gamification" as well as apps related to the "Maker Movement". Since it's been playing in my mind, I did a little research and found this short article that gives a snapshot of Gamification is and apps that were approved in the article,  "Smart Games for Game Based Learning" I also viewed, 

Jane McGonigal's hilarious and thought provoking TED Talk, "Gaming can make a better world". Watch it, it's 20 minutes well spent and has great connections to learning.

Honestly though, Gamification isn't such a new concept now; as schools are always in search of the most engaging apps to reinforce and extend learning for multiple curricular outcomes. However, it's the Maker apps that I think have great potential for Project Based Learning or Inquiry in the classroom, and are worth some examination! 

Design apps and software is something I have a little experience with. In the past I used Google SketchUp as a tool for a community redesign project, called Architecture Goes to School. It was undeniably a fantastic way for allowing students to dabble in architecture using a really effective free tool.  Recently I decided to check out and explore the Build With Chrome  app. This tool is a great way for students to take concepts from the concrete in playing and creating with actual Lego, to working more in the abstract with essentially digital Lego building blocks. (Actually in a classroom having a center where students can build with Lego, then move to a center where they can build with Chrome Build might be something worth pursuing. Hmmm.... Maybe a unit to consider...)

All of these tools are all resources for the Maker Movement, which encourages creativity, innovation and critical thinking. All essential principles central in constructivism. In an article, "Let's Make Sure Our Children Embrace the New Maker Culture", the benefits on learning with the philosophy behind the Maker Movement are explored with a push for encouraging it to thrive in schools. When the author, Roy Kieder states, "Makers today are at the forefront of advancement because they possess the skill of fast learning and adaptation. They are able to quickly move to new areas, study them, and connect them with other fields of knowledge.", as an teacher you can't help but get excited, as this is what we all want for our students.  It's pretty hard to deny the validity of exploring the Maker Movement in schools, especially with it's connections to developing traversal thinking skills.

A very popular app or game that has captured the attention of many kids (including my 7 year old daughter), is Minecraft. Initially I wasn't sure about the positive elements of this app, until my daughter started showing me what she had designed and some of the challenges that she had to figure out and problem solve while designing. As she explained her own creative process and what she had figured out, I could see what the craze was all about, and decided it was worth another look. 

However..... For use at home I see it's worth the purchase, but do we buy Minecraft as an app for school tablets??? Would there be a huge public outcry? (Probably) Not to mention that it's very expensive at a school-wide level. Yep it's only about $7, but multiply that by devices... It adds up. Plus going back to parent and public perception - would people get it?? Would the public 'get it', or is it just another battle like allowing smart phones in school. (I'm still trying to get my head around the fact that some school divisions don't allow them). 

Honestly, I think that this area is worth more exploration. I noticed that there was a Maker Movement MOOC in Cousersa that I need to sign up for. Now I just need to find a little time...

If you are interested in learning more about the Maker Movement, here are several articles and resources for further reading:

To learn the language of the Maker Movement (must be a lot of engineering terms???) Check out this article, 

This article focuses on maker apps in the classroom that might be worthy of purchase...

"24 Unique Maker Education Resources For Teaching & Learning" at Teach Thought 

If you want to check out some other digital maker apps check out this link to an article,
"39 Tools to Turn your Students into Makers

Awesome video from Edutopia to check out...

"How the Maker Movement Connects Students to Engineering and Technology"

I wish my school had the funds for learning that Quin's school does. 3-D printers?? Really??? We're just trying to achieve a 1:3 ratio of devices to students. An issue I'm sure many schools struggle with...